Seattle Times - October 24, 2001

Groundwork's big finish merits more of the same

By Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times staff critic 

Groundwork 2001 came to a triumphant end Monday night with a landmark concert that lifted hearts and spirits while raising a big chunk of money to reduce world hunger.

Another sold-out event in a nearly two-week campaign of local concerts and club shows to benefit United Nations-sponsored food-growing programs, the six-hour show had an international lineup but retained a strong Northwest flavor.

Headliner R.E.M. may be from Athens, Ga., but it includes Seattle resident Peter Buck as well as two regular sidemen from here, guitarist Scott McCaughey and keyboardist Ken Stringfellow. Local heroes Pearl Jam were second on the bill, with Seattle street performer Artis the Spoonman preceding them with a short set.

The world-class lineup also included Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, Mexican rock band Mana, Nigerian Afro-pop star Femi Kuti and a late addition, Pakistani religious singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, making it one of the most diverse and significant events in Seattle rock history.

Given its mission, and the current state of the world, the concert had a serious undertone. But R.E.M. wiped all that away when lead singer Michael Stipe bounded onto the stage and proceeded to rock the joint with a celebratory, loose-limbed set that uplifted and energized the crowd.

Opening with "Losing My Religion" and defiantly closing with "It's The End of the World (As We Know It)" a song some radio stations stopped playing in the wake of the terrorist attacks combined with Patti Smith's inspiring political anthem, "People Have the Power," the set served to remind that rock 'n' roll can be a renewing, positive force for change, and that its overall message is one of freedom.

Pearl Jam was in top form, too, with a set that emphasized political songs, including a new one called "Safe Tonight" perhaps from the forthcoming album, "Talk In Code," due Nov. 13 that seems to have been inspired by recent events.

The band opened with a cover of John Lennon's eloquently blunt "Give Me Some Truth," and emphasized its own songs about embracing life and its mysteries, such as "Betterman," "Do the Evolution," "Insignificance," "Nothing As It Seems" and "The Long Road." Lead singer Eddie Vedder was joined in the latter by Khan, who added some improvised, wordless vocals, and the two shared a long, warm embrace afterward.

The Pakistani singer and his group of musicians were introduced by Vedder, who said their music offered "a message of peace, love and hope for the world." And they were enthusiastically received by the crowd, especially when the droning, tabla-driven music built to frenzied, almost rock intensity.

Morissette's short, seven-song set found the singer spirited and happy, wearing a 1,000-watt smile as she and her tight band bounded through such songs as the philosophic "You Learn," the religious-oriented "Thank You" and a hot new rocker, "Sister Blister." The singer hopped like a bunny, twirled and tossed her mane of long hair and made other dance moves that wowed the crowd.

But the venue was little more than half-filled for Morissette and the acts that preceded her. Only when Pearl Jam was introduced did the seats fill, and remained so through most of R.E.M.'s set, although many drifted away as midnight neared (after all, it was a workday for most of us mere mortals).

Groundwork 2001 apparently was a success in monetary terms, but the deluge of other benefit shows after the terrorist attacks took away much of its impact it seemed minor in comparison. In some ways, the concert resembled those star-studded ones we've been seeing on TV.

It was visually oriented, with cameras capturing the stage action, shown on an enormous screen behind the performers (thankfully, the too-bright, distracting images were shut off during Pearl Jam and R.E.M.). With all those cameras, it looks as though a video is in the offing.

Emcee Gwyneth Paltrow was like the hosts you see on similar events, reading badly written intros from a TelePrompTer, sometimes flubbing them. But the crowd cheered every time skinny Gwynny appeared.

All those involved in Groundwork 2001 can now take a bow, because it went off without a hitch. Experience Music Project, a major sponsor and host of some of the events, gained prestige from its participation. Let's hope it will inspire EMP to do more of the same.


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